New Orleans, LA Steamboat BONNIE LEE Explodes, Aug 1880


From the New Orleans Democrat of the 12th inst., we take the particulars of the explosion and total destruction of the Bonnie Lee, which occurred on the night of Monday, the 9th inst:
The sternwheel steamboat Bonnie Lee, which left the wharf in this city, on Saturday evening last, bound for Shreveport, on Monday night exploded her boiler while proceeding up Red River and immediately after sunk.
Mr. Wm. Dillon, one of the clerks of the ill-fated steamer, reached the city yesterday on the Thompson Dean, having proceed in a yawl to Tunica, and from him the following particulars of the disaster were obtained by a Democrat reporter:
The explosion occurred at about 9 o'clock Monday night while the boat was on her way up Red River, and was off Lone Moore point, about sixty-five miles from the mouth of the stream. There was first a jarring and shivering of the vessel from bow to stern, as if some obstruction in the river had been struck, and the explosion immediately followed. Its force was upward and towards the bow, and it carried away the cabin from the clerk's office forward, and threw down the chimneys; it at the same time wrecking the hull, and five minutes after the accident the boat had sunk to her hurricane deck.
The yawl-boats were launched as soon as possible, and the passengers, two gentlemen whose names Mr. Dillon did not know, and four ladies, Mrs. Parnell and duaghter, Mrs. Bogel of Dallas, and Miss Nora A. Wood, of Sherman, Texas, were carried safely to shore. From the wreck was taken Mr. Jesse Posey, the second clerk of the boat. He was horribly mangled, his legs being broken and torn, and his head crushed. He died ten minutes after he was placed on shore. His body was brought down to this city by the same boat which Mr. Dillon arrived.
A youth, Johnnie McDermott, ten years of age, the son of the bar-keeper, Barney McDermott could not be found after the explosion, and it is supposed he was blown into the river, and if not dead before striking the water was drowned. Several of the crew were also missing and are recorded as lost. Mr. Dillon did not know their names.
Captain Kouns in command, A. Pujol, the carpenter, Chas. Longshaw and other members of the crew were thrown into the river, but were picked up by the yawls. Pujol was slightly and Longshaw seriously injured.
Taylor Reynaud, the engineer on duty at the time of the accident, escaped unhurt.
The cause of the accident is not positively known, but it is attributed to the jar which the boat received just previous, it being believed that the sudden shock caused the boiler to give way.
From the records at the office of the local board of inspectors for this district, the Democrat reporter ascertained that the boat had but one boiler. The boiler was five years old, and was inspected and tested by the local board of inspectors in this district in October last. It then stood a hydrostatic pressure of 6,265 pounds to the square inch, and authority to carry 136 pounds of steam was given. It was a ten-flue boiler, twenty-two feet long, and forty-four inches in diameter. It was made of quarter-inch iron, which had stood a tensile strain of 60,000 pounds.
It was examined by Local Inspector Applegate during last week, and in obedience to his instructions a sheet which had "sagged" was replaced with a new one.
The Bonnie Lee was built at Jefferson, Indiana, in 1875; she was 325 tons burden, and owned by Captain Noah Scovell. She was valued at $12,000 and was insured for $9,000.
The freight on board - a full load - is a total loss. The consignees are not known, and will be ascertained with difficulty, as the books and papers of the boat were lost.
We also take from the same journal, of a later date, the following statement of Captain C. S. Kouns, being, perhaps, a more minute and detailed account of the terrible catastrope:
Captain C. S. Kouns, who was in command of the ill fated steamer Bonnie Lee when she exploded her boiler and sunk in Red River on Monday last, reached the city yesterday morning, and during the day was seen by a Democrat reporter.
The statements of Captain Kouns tallied with the account of the mishap given by Clerk Wm. Dillon, which was published in the Democrat, excepting one particular. Mr. Dillon thought the force of the explosion had been upward and forward, but the Captain was positive that it had been downward, and that the forepart of the cabin was wrecked by falling after the supports beneath had been blown away, evidence, he says, that the steps leading to the cabin deck were not broken, but simply slid forward.
In regard to the death of Posey, Captain Kouns said that he did not think the injuries received by the unfortunate and lamented clerk were the direct result of the explosion, but were occasioned by the fall of the cabin and the officer in it, for he was found beneath and wedged in by broken and torn lumber. He went down with the davin, and the descending beams and timbers crushed him. He spoke but twice after being taken from the wreck. Once he said, "My poor child," and, then looking up into Captain Kouns' face, "Curt, what will become of them?"
The boy, Johnnie McDermott, who was lost, was not hurt by the explosion, but went down with the boat when she sank. After the explosion one of the colored deckhands took charge of him and was instructed by the father of the boy, who was at the moment climbing up the guards of the boat, to take him upstairs. The man, however, took him back to the engine room and turned him over to one of the greasers, but the greaser left him. The engineer, Taylor Reynaud, saw him standing in the engine room and told him to remain where he was for a few moments, and he would return and get him. Reynaud then moved to the opposite side of the boat for the purpose of lending assistance to any one who might require his aid in getting off, and while standing on the gurads was run against by one of the deckhands and pushed overboard. When he came to the surface of the water he was some distance from the boat and unable to get back to her. He seized a snag and hung on until one of the yawls picked him up. The boy was never seen again, and there is no doubt that he went down with the boat.
Seven roustabouts were drowned named Varise Willians, Henry Willians, Henry Anderson, Aaron Dixon, Bob White and Charley Howard.
John Moss, cabin boy, was drowned.
The bodies of Henry and Varise Williams, Dixon and White were recovered and buried on the bank.
Captain Kouns states the boiler did blow up, but that the explosion was caused by a shock, occasioned by striking some obstruction in the river or the bursting of something in the hold. There was but between 130 and 140 pounds of steam at the time, and a most efficient and faithful engineer was on duty.
The boat went down bow on, and for some time after the accident the stern swung to and fro with the current, showing that it was not aground. Captain Kouns is of the opinion that it was buoyed by some empty barrels stored in the hold.
-The Louisiana Democrat, Alexandria, Louisiana, August 18, 1880, page 2